The Joy of the Habsburg Legacy

Archduke Eduard Habsburg of Austria could have seen his family legacy as a burden, but instead his family’s past and present give him great joy.

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Archduke Eduard Habsburg of Austria is the nicest guy on Twitter. He never argues, no matter the bait—and there are boatloads of chum in the water, but he never takes it. 

When Queen Elizabeth died, he Tweeted a sympathetic note. Someone called him an “inbred moron.” He said something nice about the Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956. He got jokes along the theme of “inbred, marry-your cousins, Habsburg jaw.” He lets it all go. No need to engage. 

It’s not like Eduard Habsburg doesn’t have strong feelings about the issues of the day. He does. He says he shares them with his wife and a few close friends. But with the aid of a powerful inner editor, he appears effortlessly to resist public argumentation. What he does is make friends, with all sides, all comers. 

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Before he came to the U.S. a year ago, he announced a Twitter meet-up. Several among his 58,000 Twitter followers came to meet him. There are pictures. 

On Twitter, he mostly has good clean fun, even fun about this family. 

Several weeks ago, he announced March Madness brackets not on basketball but on who were the greatest Habsburgs, 16 male and 16 female. 

Here’s how Habsburg described the women of the final four: 

Empress Elisabeth “Sisi”: legendary, tragic beauty and wife of Franz Joseph. 

Empress Charlotte of Mexico: courageous wife of doomed Emperor Maximilian. 

Sophie von Hohenberg: devout, loving wife of Franz Ferdinand. 

Empress Zita: devout, courageous wife of Karl, beatification process.

Empress Zita was edging out Empress Sisi on the day I checked. A massive amount of history is packed into this final four. 

Empress Sisi is celebrated to this day in Austria. Dead these 125 years, she remains a major Viennese tourist attraction. You can buy all manner of Sisi tchotchkes to sit on your bookshelf back home. 

Franz Joseph was Emperor for 68 years and saw the beginning of the Empire’s end with the start of World War I. 

Maximilian was Emperor of Mexico until he was deposed by the Left. He had the chance to retreat back to Europe, essentially to run away. He refused and he took his execution like a Habsburg. 

Franz Ferdinand was the successor to Franz Joseph but was assassinated in Sarajevo, the event that triggered the Great War. 

Karl was the last Emperor and is up for canonization. 

This is Eduard’s family, of which he is a worthy successor. 

A European friend once told me that family history can be a burden for Europeans, so earnest are they to live up to the example and even what they see as expectation of their ancestors. You might think Eduard Habsburg would be so burdened. After all, his Fourth Great Grandfather was Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. Eduard is descended from one of Leopold’s younger sons, so Eduard says he would have to wipe out dozens of Habsburgs to be in line to head the family, so that is unlikely. Rather than a burden, his family’s past and present give him great joy. 

Eduard was born in 1967 in Munich in exile. The Habsburgs were booted out of Austria after the First World War. They were not allowed back in until the late ’60s and then only after they renounced any claim on the monarchy. Being from the Hungarian branch of the family, his father was without citizenship for a long time, until he got it back in the eighties. 

Eduard says the Habsburg name may be widely respected around the world but in some places can still be a red flag, people frothing at the mouth about them, especially in Austria. As Americans, we find this baffling. After all, there are no hard feelings here about the British royal family. I don’t think there is. 

Eduard is married and has six children. He met the beautiful Baroness Maria Theresia von Gudenus at a wedding one September when he was 27 and waited a whole month to propose marriage. No moss grows on this Habsburg. His wife also has Habsburg roots, though way back in the 19th Century. It seems one can’t swing a dead cat in Central Europe without hitting a Habsburg. Eduard is quite proud there are so many of them. He is from the Hungarian line of Habsburgs—there are four lines—but up to 300 cousins from all the lines have a rolling conversation going on a Habsburg WhatsApp. 

Habsburg grew up normally, or as normally as any boy made an archduke from birth. He grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Supertramp, ELO, and the Alan Parson’s Project. What, no Bach? He grew up often at the knee of history, sitting with Empress Zita in the convent where she spent her final days, eating stale cookies, and hearing stories about the family. Among his favorite memories were when the children were given private time with his uncle, Otto von Habsburg, then head of the family and the man who would have been emperor. Uncle Otto would explain to the children about the history and mission of the Habsburg family. These were deeply ingrained in young Habsburg: duty, service, courage, faith.  Among his favorite memories were when the children were given private time with his uncle, Otto von Habsburg, then head of the family and the man who would have been emperor. Tweet This

I asked Eduard where home is for him. He was born in Munich, has worked in Hungary, and now lives in Rome where he is the Hungarian Ambassador to the Holy See and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He says, “As a Habsburg, you never belong to any one country.” The Habsburg empire included a few dozen countries, little duchies, and kingdoms, each given a great deal of autonomy from the emperor. Empire but with a large dollop of subsidiarity. Habsburg says a better question is “Where do you want to be buried?” For him, it is a plot somewhere between Vienna and Budapest. 

On governance, Habsburg greatly admires the science fiction writer Frank Herbert and his Dune series because the emperor does not have absolute power but must rule his vast and multi-ethnic empire like a Habsburg, that is, not through coercion but diplomatic persuasion. He believes this should be a model for modern European governance; a family of nations with great latitude for making decisions. He also greatly admires Herbert’s creation the Bene Gesserit, a quasi-religious female order in Dune who are born with a memory of their bloodline. He says Christians are called to the same kind of memory about their traditions, and this is clear from Scripture both Old and New. 

As a diplomat with a strong inner editor, he does not offer political opinions. It is clear in his writing and in his conversation, however, that creeping globalism concerns him. He believes in subsidiarity, that the body closest to the problem has the responsibility and even the right to deal with it and not bureaucrats farther away. This comports with the official Hungarian line that, while supportive of Europe, does not appreciate greater encroachment from Brussels. 

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He does offer a critique of the sexual revolution, which has been an utter disaster. He cites the movie La Strada by Federico Fellini, starring Anthony Quinn. The film is about a traveling circus and was shot on locations around Italy in the early 1950s. At every stop the circus makes, the background is absolutely teeming with children. Italy in those days was that way. Driving around Italy these days one hardly ever sees children; you don’t see pregnant women. One day, he saw a pregnant woman crossing the street and he thought, “Wow, that is the first pregnant woman I have seen in three years.” 

He says the solution can only be biological: “You need a number of tradition-minded families having children, marrying among other people who are like minded. It is like in the Church. The people who live the sacraments, who live the faith, who really search for Christ. They will marry like-minded people. Their children will grow up normally. And in the end these other things will simply blow away.”

With six children, Habsburg has done his part in fighting demographic winter. Like most fathers, perhaps unlike fusty Habsburg of old, Eduard has a sometimes-goofy relationship with his family. He believes it is part of his job to embarrass them, especially in public. He says he would announce in public, “I have a great urge to sing Puccini.” His anxious sister would cover his mouth. 

Even now, his children shush him as he sings on the sidewalks of Rome. He may also break into dance. “It is incredible the power we have,” he says. “My kids know that, from time to time, I will channel my inner Roger Rabbit. Don’t forget I have worked in animation for a few years. The tension between the outer diplomat and the inner Roger Rabbit is what makes my life fun.” It is incredible that this Habsburg appears to have a fearlessly deployable quiverful of dad jokes; impossible to imagine Franz Joseph dancing or singing to embarrass his children. 

Habsburg believes that anyone can found a family for the ages and not just Habsburgs. Certain ideological impulses in the modern age still worry him. He says, “We live in a time when they want to take all of that away. They want to have a man who is alone, single, thrown into a universe where they can define themselves freely, and change the definition of themselves freely every five minutes. But knowing where you come from, knowing who you are, gives you strength, gives you identity, explains your life. It is just heaven to know whose great-grandson, grandson you are.” 

One final thing. It is Habsburg, with a b.

[Photo: Archduke Eduard Habsburg of Austria (Credit: Daniel Ibañez)]


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